Feeling Christmas, Groping Future

Mass larping as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

We were slumped in the front room of my parent’s house, scrolling through phones and attempting to rediscover the meaning of the word ‘relaxation’, when my sister observed that it didn’t feel like Christmas. Outside it was ten degrees C, pissing it down, and we’d more or less run out of conversation somewhere between walking through the door, exclaiming joy at seeing real-life family again, and boiling the kettle. Our aptitude for socialisation had collectively withered over the course of two years of Covid, and the usual stream of anecdotes and catchup trivia had, despite a lifted lockdown, dried to a trickle. The novelty of the 2020 lockdown had long since departed, but we were still stuck with the weird malaise. At the end of 2021 life was hanging.

She wasn’t the first person to note this. I generally had to agree. It wasn’t the lack of childhood wonder that naturally fades as you grow older, nor the general lack of festive glitz. I couldn’t even blame it on the lack of alcohol – the family wasn’t drinking for various reasons, drinking being the choice social lubricant and omnipresent crutch of the British on any social occasion you might mention, cocaine a close second, but it wasn’t a problem.

Estranged gargoyles in temporary wintermeat

Does Christmas thrive on spontaneity, lowered inhibitions and being ‘in the moment’? Arguably yes. Most social interaction does. A holiday that has become about interpersonal connection and expressions of affection via the medium of rampant consumerism, is effectively at odds with the considerations of meticulous planning – no matter how noble the intentions.

Which is to say that I found myself scrambling for information on the year ahead even as I sat down to relax at the end of a long year. I’ve obsessively thought ahead for as long as I can remember. If you don’t have some notion of what’s ahead, whatever it is that you haven’t accounted for might harm you. Therefore if you don’t have some plan, no matter how vague, you won’t survive (ok, excessive and dramatic – but run with me for a second). At some point in the summer I set up a series of Google alerts for future years – each year of each decade for the remainder of the century, 2022, 2023… 2029; 2030, 2031… 2039; 2040, 2041… 2049 etc. One of the alerts just spammed me with endless articles about Battlefield 2042…

Point being that the traditional Christmas froth didn’t happen, but it wasn’t just me being obsessive and weird – it was everyone and everywhere. Christmas rush? Not remotely. This was Christmas logistics, everyone taking a note out of Santa’s mind-bogglingly efficient operation and going at the holiday like an industrial exercise, factoring in supply chain shortages, interest hikes, electricity hikes, covid and the omicron variant – and the knockon effect on labour and thus delivery times, time frames for testing and impacts on socialising and meeting people, and backup plans for any eventuality in case scenario A became scenario B.

I couldn’t tell you what I plan to do with the information that might filter through to me through my various alerts, but the option to watch for patterns, information and focus points is potentially useful. It also indicates a preoccupation with the future. To be forewarned is to be forearmed and all of that. Only, we’re all like this now. If it were just a me problem, I’d shut my gob and deal with the problem. The problem is that there’s no present time. The present is just a point at which you are producing something for some future point so you can build another stepping stone to some unknown further place beyond that.

It’s the reason you scroll through endless blocks of flats on Zoopla or Rightmove or whatever, and they are way out of your price range, but you’re going to do it anyway. If you can swing a double salary job from somewhere, maybe you can afford a flat in London that isn’t just one of a row of mouldering holes squatting since the blitz amidst a pile of run down coffee shops and crumbling semi-detacheds split into a series of ‘cosy’ boxes so the landlords can quadruple their ROI from pinch-faced people who crawled in from all corners looking for opportunity and are still wondering where it is. And if you hang around long enough, maybe your day will come. Or not. Don’t look at me, mate, you’ve got Excel – run the numbers.

It’s the reason you scroll through tedious reams of gin-loving gym rats duck-facing and pec-flexing into bathroom mirrors or adjacent to some vaguely exotic-looking body of water on Tinder and Hinge and whatever. Sure, that one person is pretty hot, worth a shag, but there’s always someone else. Someone better looking, someone more intelligent, someone funnier, more money, bigger tits, better cock. You wouldn’t want to be one of those losers who settles, would you? What’s the rating? How do they rank? More importantly how do you? Has the scoreboard updated since you last checked? Whatever. Look around – there’s a thousand options just walking down the street in front of your face. The world’s a buffet, mate, why treat it like a main?

Against all reason we all go to the rat hole. Because where else is there? Maybe we’re all just rats. That’s not so bad.

And so you keep looking and scrolling and moving forward and forward and not knowing what you’re even moving towards. You live in the future because there’s no alternative and it’s ingrained now. You’re doing it because if you don’t do that then people start questioning your social net worth. Where to? Doesn’t matter. Nowhere. That doesn’t matter either. How’s the scoreboard looking?

We already know that this impulse is now artificially created, exacerbated, and reinforced by data, driving the creation of products – individual apps, cumulatively creating an environment of perpetual motion and churn. If you know which bits of the brain to trigger, you can monetise the behaviours associated with various cocktails of neurochemicals and synapse firings, and the only thing to need to worry about is whether you’re getting those neurons to fire more than your closest competitors.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the economy create this perpetually preoccupied society? Or where we already preoccupied with what was coming next and created an economy that fed on and accelerated that? I suppose it’s irrelevant at this stage, the point being that being in the present is pretty much the sole preserve of marketing strap lines and copywriting calls to action. The mere proposal to not be stuck in what become half-ironically memed as the ‘sigma grindset’, is as much joke as serious. Said ‘grindset’ proposed as the solution to your problems, is just another means to the ends of selling you more products. Our capacity to be biological entities was consumed and reconfigured by the automatic number crunching of profit motive and commodification. The answer’s egg, by the way.

When in doubt: WTF

So Christmas is about connection, but we don’t connect anymore because connection is about existing in a space that doesn’t exist anymore – the now. Living in the now is inefficient and being inefficient is being meat and being meat is unprofitable and being unprofitable is low value and being low value is disposable. Next time the scoreboard updates the tide rises. There are no boats. You didn’t think ahead. Happy new year. Drown.

But then, while I was haphazardly explaining this idea to my sister, elaborating as I went, as mum was also saying something to someone, dad comes out with – apropos of absolutely nothing – “Stagnant stinks the ditch!” There was a silence as everybody mulled this exclamation over, attempting to decipher what possible point of reference could have sparked his outburst, before giving up in a collective roar of baffled laughter.

So perhaps there’s hope after all.

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